June 15, 2021

Keeping it Open

Dr. Ramin Zargham, PhD, focuses on role of protein in re-narrowing of arteries after treatment

Angioplasty, stenting and other similar procedures done to open occluded arteries save thousands of lives each year. But these revascularization procedures also have side effects.

About 40 per cent of people who undergo angioplasty, which involves removing build-up in the heart’s arteries using a balloon-like device inserted through a catheter, suffer from restenosis, a gradual re-narrowing of the artery after a blockage has been treated. Restenosis occurs because of tissue growth (scarring) at the site of treatment.

Stenting, done in conjunction with angioplasty, reduces the risk of restenosis to almost 20 per cent of patients. That number is also high, according to the clinician-scientist, Dr. Ramin Zargham, PhD, who recently joined the Libin Cardiovascular Institute. ­­­­­

His research focuses on the significance of a protein, integrin alpha-8 beta-1, in restenosis.

“Previous studies have shown that this molecule plays an important role with this process of stenosis, but we don’t know how significant that role is,” says Zargham. 

Zargham believes Alpha-8 is an important piece of the puzzle and is investigating his hypothesis in rodents. If he is correct, researcher can focus on ways of blocking this integrin to stop tissue regrowth after treatment of the occluded arteries.

“The idea is that we could create a peptide to treat the area of angioplasty to prevent restenosis,” says Zargham, noting he is also working with isolated human tissue to test his theory in humans.

Zargham has been working in this area for several years and has published several articles on the subject in peer-reviewed journals. He has received several grants from such agencies as the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health to support his research.

Early life and education

Zargham was born in Iran and became interested in medicine at a young age.

When I was 13 I started to read books about how to improve health by studying the different herbs, fruits and vegetables and their minerals and ingredients in order to advise my family and extended family which foods to eat for certain diseases,” he says. “A family member mentioned that I seem to have a passion about understanding disease and disease mechanisms, and that I should consider going into medicine.”

Zargham, a father of two, took that advice and received his medical degree at Shahid Beheshti Medical School in Tehran, Iran in 1995. It was in this program that he met his wife, who is also a physician.

The couple moved to London, UK, in 2000 where he studied biostatistics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, before emigrating to Canada in 2001. His research interests led Zargham to further studies and he completed a PhD in cellular biology at McGill University in 2007. His postdoctoral fellowships were completed in the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the University of Virginia and the University of California.

Zargham completed his pathology residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, earning an annual achievement award from the Anatomical Pathology Division. Following his residency, Zargham completed clinical fellowships in surgical pathology and cytopathology. 

In 2019, he did few months of a fellowship specializing in invivo microscopy at­­­ Harvard Medical School before accepting a position as a clinical pathologist in Calgary in late 2019.

Zargahm recently joined the Libin Cardiovascular Institute.

“While studying at McGill, I heard about the reputation of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute,” he says. “For me, coming here is like hitting the jackpot. I am excited to connect the dots with my past research.”